Walker looks forward to crowds for British TV commercials

One agency used 18,000 gallons of paint like a fireworks display to advertise a color TV.
Paint splatters

The P-word comes up a lot this year in the British Television Advertising Awards -- parody. Some of the top ads we have seen before -- sort of. Awards administrator Peter Bigg says this mockery is actually a good sign for his industry.

"It sounds really perverse," he admits. "But unless the work isn't good enough to be remembered then it's not going to be parodied, so hopefully we are on a bit of a swing."

Peter Bigg
Peter Bigg is the chief executive of the British Television Advertising Awards.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

Last year, audiences were delighted by the sight of thousands of brightly hued Superballs hurtling down the streets of San Francisco. It was an ad for a color television.

There's a remarkably similar commercial this year using the same music. But this time it's shot in the streets of a decidedly down-market Welsh town.

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"Same shots, same cars, same angles, camera angles," Bigg says. "Only they've thrown apples and lemons instead of rubber balls."

Unlike Superballs, which bounce when they hit windows, apples tend to break the glass. Watermelons also don't bounce well on pavement either. It gets quite messy. The commercial is for a soda pop known for its irreverent ads.

Another top ad from last year also gets a makeover. The original features singers who mimic the sounds around them.

These two men star in a commercial which parodies a car commercial to advertise a phone directory.
Image courtesy Walker Art Center

In the parody, there's no choir making car sounds. Instead, it's just two strange-looking guys with glued-on moustaches who present the sounds of their wreck of a van.

They are nowhere as good as the first choir, but they certainly capture the special feeling of a worn out van.

So what's the ad for? Well, a telephone directory company, of course. Peter Bigg admits sometimes it's hard for U.S. audiences to pick up on products they don't know.

"I always say if you are really stuck, it must be for a communications company of some kind," he advises.

"Why some 16,000 people turned out to see [the British TV Advertising Awards] last winter is a mystery to me."

Viewers might be struck by the large amount of skin in some of these ads. A pole dancer reveals the consequences of breast cancer. In an ad for a cosmetic, hundreds of naked people carefully pose en masse to demonstrate the wonders of skin cells.

Peter Bigg says he's pleased to see a return of humor to the British television commercials. He says it's has been lacking in recent years.

"It was all very, very, serious," Bigg says. "But there are a couple of agencies out there now that just want to make ads that are just great fun to watch."

One of those companies is Fallon, now in London, but originally started in the Twin Cities. It did that Superball commercial.

This year the agency came up with the idea of putting on what looks like a fireworks display. But instead of brightly colored explosives, they used 18,000 gallons of paint. Bigg says it was shot at a housing complex in Glasgow, which was due for demolition.

In an ad for Vaseline, hundreds of naked people posed as skin cells.
Image courtesy of the Walker Art Center

"That's real paint being blown up, and explosive charges underground and on the staircases, and outside of buildings, and proper military grade explosions and whatever," Bigg says. "And then they had to clean it all off the buildings for some reason."

Bigg will introduce the first two screenings of the British Television Advertising Awards, but not the other 60 shows. He does the program in other U.S. cities, but the Walker run has the most screenings by far. The annual show has now run for more years than any other paid event at the Walker.

Bigg says he wasn't thinking there would be a huge public interest when he first brought the awards to the Walker.

"At the time, 23 years ago, Minneapolis was the third biggest center of film production after New York and Los Angeles. And it had some ad agency people here too," he says. "Why some 16,000 people turned out to see it last winter is a mystery to me."

It must be something, though. The Walker expects even bigger crowds this year.